Acheulian of sub-himalayan India, Pakistan and Nepal

Indian stone age sequence question 6

Acheulian of sub-himalayan India, Pakistan and Nepal

The Acheulian evidence

In Pakistan handaxes have been found insitu by Rendell and Dennell (1985).  These were found within the section at Dina and Jalapur and are dated to post-Bruhnes time (<800 ka) and pre-tilting of the sediments and so estimated to date to 400-600 kyr.  As pointed out by Mohapatra (1990) Acheulian tools have been reported by de Terra and Paterson (1939) from 7 additional localities in Pakistan , but the number of artefacts is low and the context unclear.

In Nepal, Corvinus (2006) recovered 20 handaxes from Satpati.  These handaxes were found on the surface of Siwalik sediments but as no other sediments occurred from which they could be derived she inferred that they originated from a particular sandstone bed above which no artefacts were found.

In India Mohapatra (1981, 1982, 1987), Mohapatra & Singh (1981), Kumar and Rishi (1986) have reported Acheulian artefacts from 21 “findspots”.  The number of artefacts is not large, with the total assemblage barely exceeding 100 artefacts.  Most of the findspots consist of from 1-3 artefacts.  The exception is Atbarpur where over 50 artefacts were collected.  Recently Gaillard et al (2008) have published a study of the Atbarpur assemblage which shows its close resemblance to the Large Flake Acheulian (LFA) of Peninsular India.

The problems:low numbers and sporadic occurence

The Acheulian in the sub-Himalayan regions therefore is widespread, found wherever work has been carried out (except Pabbi Hills), and by varied individual researchers.  The number of artefacts is low, except for a few localities like Atbarpur and Satpati.  The artefacts are usually surface finds.  Only Dina and Jalapur have been related to the magnetostratigraphy and both of them are late in date.

Inspite of these problems the iconic nature of Acheulian Large Cutting Tools is such that even with this low density and sporadic occurrence the presence of Acheulian is confirmed.  The finding of a single Large cutting tool is actually not very uncommon. This is perhaps not widely appreciated as single artefacts are rarely written about.  In my personal experience single artefacts, or  a few single artefacts are quite commonly found at Acheulian sites.  Thus at Mandwara, on the Narmada river I recovered a single unabraded cleaver from the eroded surface of the older silt, a second cleaver from the gravel dug out of a well 20 m below the surface (Utawad), a handaxe from Gunore on the Kukdi river, 3 cleavers from Nasre on the Krishna river found on different visits, 4 cleavers from Saswad, also on different visits.  The pattern of occurrence of Acheulian tools therefore is not necessarily different from Peninsular India.  Probably where large numbers of tools occur we are seeing a surface exposed for a significant time span, or concentration of artefacts by erosion.  I have argued in the “Large Flake Acheulian” post that these “fragmented chaine operatoires” are a signature of Acheulian and indicate the habitual transport of finished tools.  A single Acheulian artefact is typically a Large Cutting Tool. The low numbers of artefacts therefore are not a serious problem in establishing the presence of Acheulian in sub-Himalayan zone of the Indian sub-continent.

The problems: Where do the tools come from?

In India, Nepal and Pakistan Acheulian tools have been found in/on sediments equivalent to the Pinjor formation of the Siwaliks.  The Pinjor formation has been dated between the Gauss Matuyama boundary (2.5 myr) and the Boulder Conglomerate.  The Boulder Conglomerate was deposited in response to the renewed uplift of the Himalayas and varies in age from sector to sector.  The terminal date for the Pinjor formation therefore varies from 1.3 myr to younger than the Bruhnes Matuyama boundary ( Nanda 2002, Patnaik & Nanda 2010).  Thus the Siwalik frontal range exposes sediments of lower and middle Pleistocene time.  A figure from Patnaik and Nanda (2010) shows the palaeomagnetically dated sections from the Indian Siwaliks.  I have highlighted the time interval between the Olduvai event (1.8 myr) and the Bruhnes Matayama boundary (0.8 myr).  At least 4 sections—Parmandal-Utterbeni, Patiali Rao, Ghaggar and Nadah contain sediments belonging to a time span when Acheulian is known from Africa.  Infact Patiali Rao, Ghaggar and Nadah sections continue well into the Bruhnes epoch.  Thus derivation of Acheulian artefacts from erosion of the Pinjor sediments seems to be more probable than them dating to post sediment exposure, which would be very recent.  In the early 1980’s when the discovery of Acheulian artefacts in the Siwalik frontal range was made, the age of the Acheulian in Africa had not been established so that a “Pinjor” age for the Acheulian was considered impossible.  Post 1980 work has led to an earlier dating for the Acheulian as well as showing “Pinjor” sediments to continue past the Middle Pleistocene.

click for larger view

How young is the Soanian?

A final question is the reported presence of “Soanian” assemblages as well as Acheulian on surfaces of the “Frontal range” (Mohapatra 1990).  Are they contemporary to the Acheulian?, eroding out of the later Siwalik sediments or do they post date the exposure of the sediments?  Soni and Soni 2008 infact have found “Soanian” artefacts in contexts as young as 7 ka.  A post exposure date for the “Soanian” therefore may not be impossible.

Kumar, M., and K. K. Rishi. 1986. Acheulian elements from Hoshiharpur Region (Punjab). Man and Environment 10:141-142.

Mohapatra, G. C. 1981. Acheulian Discoveries in the Siwalik Frontal Range Current Anthropology 22:433-435.

—. 1982. “Acheulian Distribution in the Siwalik of Punjab,” in Indian Archeaology : New Perspectives. Edited by R. K. Sharma, pp. 28-37. Delhi: Agam Kala Prakashan.

—. 1997. “Re-identification of Acheulian Element in the Western Sub-Himalayan Lithic Complex in the Light of New Discoveries,” in Indian Prehistory:1980. Edited by V. D. Misra and J. N. Pal, pp. 43-50. Allahabad: Department of Ancient History, Culture and Archaeology, University of Allahabad.

Mohapatra, G. C., and M. Singh. 1981. Acheulian Discoveries in the Siwalik Frontal Range of Western Sub-Himalayas. Punjab University Research Bulletin 10:65-77.

Rendell, H., and R. W. Dennell. 1985. Dated Lower Palaeolithic Artefacts from Northern Pakistan. Current Anthropology 26 393.

Soni, A. S., V. S. Soni, and D. S. Dhillon. 2008. Large assemblages of flakes and cores found on dated young terraces of River Satluj and its tributaries. Current Science 94:577-580.

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2 Responses to Acheulian of sub-himalayan India, Pakistan and Nepal

  1. How young is the Soanian?
    First of all I am thankful to Sheila Mishra that she has taken so much trouble by allowing such a useful discussion on her Blog. The lithic assemblage containing Soanian tools, pitted cobbles and large cutting tools on cortical flakes found by us from a Satluj terrace dated to 6.25 + 0.84 ka (Soni et al, 2008) should imply that the tools were younger (may be much younger) than the date of the terrace. This is confirmed by the fact that the tools of Soanian typology were also unexpectedly found by us from a post-Urban Harappan site ‘Bara’ (near Ropar in Punjab plains), and also in a buried state mixed with wheel made potsherds and edge-ground lithic specimens from a site in Himachal Pradesh (Soni and Soni, 2009) which point to a mid-Holocene or even late mid-Holocene occurrence of the sub-Himalayan stone age. (More sites with some details are being put on this blog in reply to Question-4).
    With regard to the Atbarapur Acheulian assemblage, it is submitted that the Pinjore context is not much clear from published papers (Rishi, 1989; Gaillard, et al, 2008). Gaillard et al write, “At certain places the exposed straitigraphy of the terrace deposits is about 2.5m thick & consists of 1.5m of gravel at the bottom, COVERED BY 1m OF LOOSE SILT AND SAND. From the gravel, a few cleavers and choppers were discovered in situ but MOST of the lithic artefacts WERE FOUND LYING ON THE SURFACE”. It is natural to believe that artefacts lying on the surface of silt come there only after the deposition of silt (see Mishra’s post about Question-4, para 4). How majority of Acheulean artefacts reached the surface by coming out of the gravel bed and crossed the 1m thick silt/sand to stay on it? This anomaly needs to be addressed geologically. It is also to be seen that the original discoverer has shown the stratigraphy as 15-25cm thickness of gravel and not 1.5m (see Rishi, 1998: fig.1) and nowhere he mentions it as 1.5m. His Plate-1 showing 2 in situ artefacts does not make it clear that they are in situ if not fallen from above the surface and got embedded in the wall of the stream/gullies. Whether the artefacts had come from an excavation that we are not told. The discoverer further writes that GRAVEL BEDS ARE RECENT DEPOSITS (Rishi, 1989, p: 3) by referring to GSI (1976). Also in Pinjore times no boulders of fine-grained rock (the raw material of most of the 52 Acheulean artefacts at Atbarapur) large enough to make these tools are known to have existed in the Siwaliks (Parth Chaohan also agrees; personal communication).
    I personally believe (to be verified by proper scientific investigation) that to Atbarpura and other places where Acheulean tools (on fine-grained raw material) are occasionally found, much after the Acheulean times some later stone-age Hominines belonging to Rajasthan or elsewhere could have found them useful and carried them along with to the Siwaliks in need of hour. It may be (or may not be) as much a speculation as of burying such tools in a sediment where they are not expected.

  2. References by Vidwan Singh Soni
    –Soni, A. S., V.S. Soni, and G. S. Dhillon. 2008. Large assemblage of flakes and cores found on dated young terraces of River Satluj and its tributaries. Current Science, 94: 577-580.
    –Soni, A. S., and V.S. Soni, 2009. A flake-rich assemblage in buried state and in primary context in the NW sub-Himalayas. Current Science, 96: 1130-1133.
    –Rishi, K. K. 1989. Palaeoliths from Atbarapur (Punjab) published by Department of Cultural Affairs Archaeology & Museums, Punjab Chandigarh.
    –Gaillard, C., Singh, Mukesh and K. K. Rishi. 2008. Technological Analysis of the Acheulian Assemblage from Atbarapur in Siwalik Range (Hoshiarpu District, Punjab). Man and Environment, XXXIII (2): 1-14.
    –G.S.I: Geological Survey of India. 1976. Publication for the 125th anniversary celebrations-Hoshiarpur, Punjab region.

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